the 8 worst questions to ask at your job interview

usnewsAt the end of a job interview, your interviewer is likely to ask you what questions you have. This is the time for you to ask all the things that you need to know to help you decide if the job and the company are right to you. But you’re still being evaluated, so it’s important to think about what you’re asking and how you’re framing your questions.

At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about eight of the worst questions I’ve been asked by candidates in interviews. You can read it here.

{ 93 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Beth

    Hmm, I recently interviewed at a public university that I had been warned would be in financial duress (and the state can’t agree on a budget), so I asked a couple times about how likely it would be that the position would be cut. I had conflicting information in my research; publicly, it seemed that they wouldn’t cut a faculty position, but a friend of mine who had worked there kept warning me that it was still possible since the state could cut a lot of their funding. Now, I can see that asking this likely contributed (at least partially) to not getting the position. But I do wonder, is this question any more acceptable with a public university, or a government entity, etc.? And how would I have gotten to the “truth” without getting burned? Or is it just a risk you take?

    Reply
    1. BRR

      I think in some instances like your’s you can ask. I’m not sure of the exact wording I would use but I think the question and answer would be on the vague side of things.

      Reply
    2. fposte

      Ahahaha. I know that university system all too well.

      I hope you didn’t get dinged for that, as it seems a bit churlish. However, none of the people you’re talking to would have been in possession of the truth, and for that matter the truth, X-Files be damned, may not actually be out there, because there are so many moving parts and unknowns. If you’re applying for faculty/research positions it may be more politically savvy to ask how the research mission is faring given the current situation, how enrollment is going, and where your interviewers envision the department heading over the next several years.

      Generally cuts are easiest to make in academic, non-union staff, and I don’t think anybody’s getting any promises in those jobs right now. I can’t tell if you’re asking about adjunct positions or tenure-stream or something else in faculty; adjuncts are largely considered disposable, unfortunately, but tenure-stream is still very college/department dependent. If they’re still approving tenure at the usual rate, that’s a good sign.

      Reply
    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      It’s not that it’s so out of line to ask (and I hope you didn’t rejected on that basis); it’s that it’s not likely to get you the information you really need and you need to seek it out in other ways.

      Reply
      1. Beth

        fposte – this was a visiting faculty position; I’m looking at libraries, which are always a little bit strange because sometimes the positions are faculty and sometimes they are not. I knew that the position would last at the most 3 years (it was one year, potentially renewable each year), but I was concerned about being laid off after six months. I did stress that I knew it was risky to start, being a visiting position, so of course it’s hard to say whether or not that actually contributed to not getting the position.

        You make a good point that no one is usually in the possession of “the truth,” and I did get that impression from people.. but it’s even possible as AAM mentioned originally that if they DID know, they can’t tell me. Ultimately, they said they believed that the position would at least last the year and would very likely be renewed, but they didn’t seem confident about it.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Right, that’s how visiting positions work within the system. (For other readers, “visiting” is not really “special out-of-towner,” it’s “short-term position that doesn’t need budget approval.” We usually hope that we can eventually support a conversion to a regular budgeted position, but often we can’t.)

          Generally they’re not going to lay you off outside of the contract term; they’ll just not renew you after the year. But it really is likely that they had no idea what things would look like in a year or even six months, so both their vagueness and your caution are utterly understandable.

          Reply
    4. Anna

      I have asked this when I was being interviewed by a start-up, because it absolutely has to do with how comfortable I am accepting an offer.

      Reply
      1. AnxiouslyAnon

        Yup. I’ve asked how long the company can operate on its budget if we pretend they aren’t getting any more money ever. I’ve gotten pretty reasonable head nods and answers to that, and then usually a follow up about how more funding will be acquired to keep the company going (either from the CEO raising more, or the VC offering milestone payments, or when they want to go public, etc). Since I’ve been laid off twice now due to funding, it’s a really important question for me to ask. And really at this point all I’m looking for is will the place be stable for at least a year.

        Reply
    5. J.B.

      In government, generally, the best way to ask is 1) how is the position funded (grants, receipts, something else) and 2) is this a preexisting position or newly created? If newly created then you can get more into the motivation for creating it and stability questions.

      Reply
    6. Liz2

      Maybe “What’s the general vision of the department over the next five years? Any particular initiatives you’re looking forward to launching?”

      That helps you get a lot of good valuable info and perhaps close to what you are looking for.

      Reply
    7. Stranger than fiction

      Or how about a startup? I know someone in software that often interviews at startups and asks something about their funding/runway but not sure exactly how he asks it.

      Reply
    8. misplacedmidwesterner

      I work in public libraries. And we often have people have a variation of this question. It helps if you can preface it with something that shows you have done research. “I’ve been reading that your city/county/governing body has had a flat budget for the last two years. Do you have an idea of how that will impact the library in the next few fiscal years?” Right now it is part of our reality and I never mind someone asking that, especially if they can frame it in a way that shows that they have done some research

      The questions that annoy me are the ones that are clearly just off the “best questions to ask at a job interview” lists and don’t seem to really interest the candidate or are pertinent to our situation. I really like questions that reflect that they did some research and thought critically about the position/our organization.

      Reply
    9. Amy G. Golly

      Ah, the fun of working for a public institution! My full salary and benefit compensation is printed in the local newspaper every year. :P

      Which is to say: you probably have to put together your own answers from what information is available. If they’re hiring for the position, they’re at least reasonably optimistic they’ll able to keep the person around for awhile. Beyond that, I don’t know how they’d answer the question “how likely is this position to be cut?”

      Reply
  2. drago cucina

    #4–“Can I bring my 5 year old with me?” Not a drop everything and come in now interview but two days notice.

    Reply
      1. AMG

        Lol–good one.
        How many coworkers can I reasonably expect to hex me in a given workday?
        Are there locks on the doors to private areas in case someone wants to use them for accruing points for sleeping with their coworkers?
        Will I be penalized by HR for eating spicy food?

        Reply
        1. AthenaC

          Any unhappy ghosts of former employees I should worry about?
          Any known space-time anomalies in the general area? (Of course one can never guarantee that you’ve identified 100% of space-time anomalies just due to the nature of the things.)

          Reply
          1. Liane

            The Doctor doesn’t seem to issue press releases about when & where he’s going to show up. And those Starfleet people have been *investigated* for time travel issues.

            Reply
            1. Jennifer Needs a Thneed

              The Doctor often enough ends up not where he wanted to go, but where he was needed to go. (Or so said his sexay personified TARDIS engine.)

              Reply
        2. Rivakonneva

          Will my manager expect to buy my underwear?
          Will I be expected to work during tornado alarms, when everyone else is being told to stay home at all costs?
          Will my boss eat my lunch if I don’t bring in a locking lunchbox?

          And above all ……………….. will Jewish employees receive Hanukkah Balls in December?

          Reply
  3. Eric

    8. “Can I have the job?”
    I think you can definitely accomplish this with a statement, though. Towards the end of the interview saying something like “I’ve appreciated getting to know more about the position, and am excited about the opportunity” can indicate that you are still interested.

    Reply
    1. NK

      Yes, definitely agree. When I was scheduled for an interview, the external recruiter said to make sure to express that I was interested in the job. He said, “don’t make them ask for a hug”. Which is a ridiculous way to put it, but the point was well-taken – make sure when you leave the interview they know you’re interested.

      Sightly different context, but I do a lot of on-campus interviewing of MBA candidates for roles at my company, and we absolutely factor in a candidate’s level of interest, particularly because we know they are interviewing with a lot of companies at once. There are some candidates where it’s pretty clear they are just interviewing for either practice or as a serious backup. Not to say we’ll deny them outright just because of that, but a slightly weaker candidate who is really enthusiastic about our company is more likely to get moved to the next round.

      Reply
    2. AMG

      My husband is in sales and suggested that I ask the interviewer how I did and if I got the job. Never got any offers after asking that and decided to scrap it. What I do is t related to sales in the least, so maybe it applies for those types of roles.

      Reply
      1. Moonsaults

        I can see how that would work in sales since it’s so often about the pitch. You can solidify a position with a good interview and wrap it up in the “so I can go ahead and gift wrap this for you?”

        Reply
        1. Anna

          But even if it’s sales job you’re putting them on the spot if you ask that. I wouldn’t ask it under any circumstances.

          Reply
      2. Czhorat

        “Did I get the job/Can I have the job/When can I start?” strike me as the generic “assume consent” sales advice. It’s the kind of thing they teach in sales seminars but which rarely work in the real actual world. The problem is that even those of us who bounce around a bit probably don’t get a new job more than once every couple of years, so it’s hard to learn the kind of instincts that, say, an actual salesperson would have.

        Reply
  4. Collarbone High

    This makes me think of one of my favorite “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey”: “In a job interview, I think a good thing to ask is if they ever press charges.”

    Reply
  5. Leatherwings

    I remember seeing (maybe here?) that an alternative to the hard sell “can I have this job” question is “are there any concerns you have about my candidacy that I could address now?”

    I’ve never used this, but would this be considered acceptable?

    Reply
    1. NK

      I’m not a huge fan of this question. For certain concerns, I’m going to make sure I ask you about them during the interview. For other concerns, I’m not going to tell you about them whether you ask me or not. For instance, see the my above comment about people’s interest – if I let on that it’s a concern, they’re just going to try to convince me otherwise. I specifically ask why they’re interested in our company, and if they can’t give a compelling answer it’s not a great sign. Without giving away my industry, it’s REALLY easy to come up with a reason you’re excited about working in this industry, which is why it’s a particular red flag if you don’t.

      Reply
      1. NK

        Hit reply too soon. In short, I’m not going to walk away from an interview not asking about a concern that I’m willing to ask about, so the question always ends up feeling a little awkward, and the answer is virtually always no. Unless you don’t have a very competent interviewer, I suppose.

        Reply
      2. Nerfmobile

        I used to work for a university, and a lot of people would say they wanted to work for use because we were Prestigious University. My manager at the time had a really good response to that – she would say that no matter how prestigious we were, once you were working there it was a still a daily job with good things and bad things and occasional annoying co-workers and such. So she would ask again, what was it about the job itself that interested them. Anybody who couldn’t come up with a better response after that guidance usually was a pretty doubtful candidate in other ways too.

        Reply
      3. Penny

        Right, I’m not a fan of this question either or the similar, ‘is there anything else I can answer for you to help determine my qualifications/make a decision blah blah’? Well no, that’s what I’ve been doing the whole interview. If I still had questions, I’d ask them without prompting and if I have concerns I agree with NK I’m not going to share them because I don’t want an argument. Now I want you to ask questions so you can decide if it’s a good fit for you.

        Reply
    2. Czhorat

      I used this once [having just read it during a job search] and received an answer which was reasonable but unrelated to my actual abilities or qualifications. It did help give me context as to what the pitfalls could be, and how to navigate them.

      In the end, I got the job, so it wasn’t a disaster.

      Reply
    3. Liz2

      I wouldn’t because I don’t want to input the idea they could possibly have any concerns about me at all. Asking the question immediately suggests maybe there ARE concerns to really think about. I trust if they have concerns, they will shake them out in the interview.

      Reply
    4. myswtghst

      I’ve asked this in a few interviews (with wording tweaked a bit to fit my personal style), and while the answer was generally “no” or “I can’t think of anything”, it was overall well-received. I think it helped that I asked it genuinely wanting to know if there was anything we hadn’t covered, and in tandem with asking what someone who excelled in the role would look like.

      Reply
  6. Bonky

    Laughing at “can I have the job?” – this happened to me with one of the first candidates I ever interviewed, around 2000-ish. For that particular role, we had a session comprising two interviews, with a written test in-between. We hadn’t had a chance to look at the test when the candidate asked if he had the job, and said so. He then proceeded to demonstrate why we shouldn’t hire him by:

    a) saying we were racist for not giving him an answer right then (this having just walked through one of the most racially diverse offices I’ve ever worked in, and having been interviewed by me – I’m not white myself)
    b) saying the test was just an excuse to avoid hiring him, that we obviously weren’t making other candidates complete
    c) refusing to leave the building until we gave him the job.

    He ended up being escorted out by two big burly coworkers and told that we’d call the police if he came back. Subsequently, we looked at his test to see just how things had gone. He’d only completed two questions, and they were both totally, catastrophically wrong. Weirdly, his behaviour in the interviews themselves actually hadn’t been terrible – he wouldn’t have made the shortlist, but nothing as weird as the palaver over “You have to give me the job now” and the test stuff came up.

    At the time it left me shaken and frightened. Happily, time is a great healer, and now I just think it’s hilarious.

    Reply
    1. MoinMoin

      Let’s say you said, “Alright, you caught me! Since you won’t leave, I guess you can have it!” Like… how does he think that’s going to go when he shows up to his new job on Monday?

      Reply
      1. Bonky

        I think he realised pretty much instantly that he’d made a horrible mistake – and his answer to it was to keep doubling down. I do wonder where he is now.

        Reply
  7. bkh

    I watched a company’s job page for a year before I applied – their finance department turned over twice (as confirmed by a couple of people who worked their and forwarded my resume). They’re one of those “we only hire the best and they have to perform. If you don’t like it, don’t apply.” companies. In the interview, I asked why their finance department turned over twice (CFO, controller, finance manager and accountants). Turns out, most shouldn’t have applied, though one controller had to move for family reasons.

    I was doing 50/50 audits and tax at the time, so I asked the question wearing my auditor hat. Anyways, I’m still in public practice, and am pretty sure that I’m unemployable in industry or government.

    Reply
    1. Sibley

      If you think you’re unemployable in industry or government because you’re in public practice, nope. Now, if there’s another reason, I have no clue. But it’s actually pretty easy (from my experience) to move from public auditing to internal auditing.

      Reply
  8. The Cosmic Avenger

    I sense a theme here. Most of these questions demonstrate A) an inability or unwillingness to do any legwork yourself or B) a complete lack of appropriateness, discretion or tact, which are not only important when dealing with customers or clients, but a lack thereof would probably have your new coworkers writing to Alison asking for advice!

    Reply
  9. Anita Brayke

    I don’t say “Can I have the job?” but I do try to sum up the interview in a couple sentences, including what they need and why I’d be a good fit, and I say something like “I am really interested in the position.” Then I go home and email a thank you note reiterating why I’d be a good fit. I had an interview in October I wasn’t ultimately hired from, but I got an email on New Year’s indicating they’re still interested in me and are looking for the right position, completely unsolicited! I’m not holding my breath, but it’s nice to feel like they cared.

    Reply
    1. Jesmlet

      Don’t forget when you send the thank you note to give them something more to consider. If you’re really just reiterating what was said in the interview, it won’t add much to the exchange. It’s always nice when I get a note thanking me for my time but it’s the notes that add to the conversation we had and give me something more to consider that nudge me a little bit in their direction.

      Reply
    2. Elle

      This is great…as an interviewer, I appreciate it when a candidate re-states their interest in the job at the end of the interview. And the thank you note is the icing on the cake.

      Reply
  10. voluptuousfire

    I did ask “what about my resume caught your eye?” in an interview and they answered me without appearing to think it was odd. I think I’ve asked that a few times, even for the job I have now. I was told by a recruiter friend of mine to ask that and I don’t think it necessarily hurt me.

    Having said that, I can completely see how it can appear to look like fishing for compliments but also one can see that as good feedback on their resume. If they know that x skill or y experience is catching potential employer’s attention, they can work that. Granted YMMV but I don’t think it’s an outright awful question.

    Reply
    1. OhNo

      I think part of that question is in how you phrase it. I’ve asked a similar question before, but I phrased it as, “Was there any particular experience/position that you wanted to hear more about?” It worked for me in context, because I had worked in a similar environment before, but didn’t mention one very specific activity that they wanted to make sure I had experience with.

      I’m sure they would have asked about it eventually anyway, but the fact that I gave them a clear opening early in the interview meant we got to skip a couple of feeling-out-your-experience questions later in the interview.

      Reply
  11. regina phalange

    Regarding question one – I’ve also received cover letters before talking about what my company does, when it.does.not.do.that.thing.at.ALL.

    Reply
    1. Amber Rose

      Got that at my last job. We wanted a new land surveyor for marking lot lines and laying out new construction. We got 100 cover letters talking about how good so and so is at conducting telephone surveys. :/

      Reply
      1. Wendy Darling

        On the other side of that coin I get similar stuff from recruiters.

        Let’s say I’m a herpetologist and I study the habits of Burmese Pythons. About once a month I get an email from a recruiter who says they saw my resume and were impressed with my extensive experience with the Python programming language and that I should apply for this software developer job they’re trying to fill.

        The first time it was funny but all the times after that I just got annoyed.

        Reply
    2. Joanna

      When I had recruiting responsibilities it used to frustrate me so much seeing people who would put a career goals section on their resume and in it accidentally reveal they knew nothing about the company or the role. They’d say stuff like “It’s been my ambition to work for a large company such as _______” not realising that we had a staff of less than 10, most of whom were part time or “My long term goal is to become a ________” not realising that there was no pathway to that goal in our organisation and that the skills they’d learn in the job wouldn’t even really be tangentially relevant.

      Reply
  12. Amber Rose

    The only time I asked why my resume caught someone’s eye was when I applied for one position, but was interviewed for a drastically different one. But that was because I honestly wanted to know which parts of my work history were applicable to the job. I got a good answer, and ultimately took the offer based on it.

    But of course, every rule has its exceptions and I think generally you would want to avoid fishing for compliments.

    Reply
  13. NJ Anon

    I was recently hiring a part-time bookkeeper. An interviewee’s first question was “any chance this will go full-time?”
    Um, no and you should have asked me that during our phone interview, it would have saved us both time.

    Reply
  14. Liz2

    Has anyone had an interviewer try to walk them out all the way to the parking lot? It’s happened twice to me and I KNOW they were just hoping to check out my car and see if anyone else was with me. Luckily both times I had parked far away so they couldn’t really justify all the way out, but sheesh. So weird.

    Reply
    1. Wendy Darling

      That… is super creepy. And I tend to freak myself out so I’d assume they were trying to get me alone to axe murder me or something.

      Reply
      1. Sabine the Very Mean

        Yeah that would make me super uncomfortable. If it were a different situation I think I would just straight out say, “no thanks, that makes me uncomfortable” just so s/he knew such a request was odd and shouldn’t do it again. In this instance I’d say, “oh, thank you but I took transit and I prefer to use my walk to the stop to reflect on the interview but I certainly appreciate your offer”.

        Reply
    2. Intrepid

      I’ve had that happen for a job on the fringe of a big US city with only s0-so transportation. I think they were losing people left right and center because they’d recently moved their office to an area that was TERRIBLE to commute to via public transit, and I think they were hoping to see that I had a car.

      Reply
    3. Chriama

      Why would they want to check out your car and see who else might be with you? I don’t understand it at all and I’m wondering if I’m missing some cultural or social background here.

      Reply
    4. Chaordic One

      This is really weird, but I had a former boss who considered the kind of car that an applicant drove when he was hiring people. For example, he didn’t like people whose cars were dirty, whose cars were too expensive or people who drove large pickup trucks or SUVs. He was weird.

      OTOH, I’ve also worked at places where they asked certain employees who drove to work in hoopties, to park in the lot behind the building and not in front of it.

      Reply
  15. Wendy Darling

    I once read a company’s Glassdoor reviews only after I’d accepted a phone interview (never made that mistake again) and discovered that the company had a whopping 2 stars overall and 1.5 for the office in my city. Which is literally the worst glassdoor rating I have ever seen. The good reviews were very obvious fakes and also hugely outnumbered by the bad ones, which were extremely consistent about what the problems were.

    I decided I HAD to address it in the interview because woah. I planned to say something like “I was looking at the Glassdoor reviews for Chocolate Teapots Inc and I noticed that a lot of people had complaints about X and Y”.

    I got as far as “I was looking at your Glassdoor reviews–” and the interviewer was like, “Yeeeeeeeah. Actually that’s all totally true but I try to shield my team from it as much as possible and we’re supposed to be getting bought out soon so that should help.”

    I didn’t take the job. The salary was not competitive and it seemed like I’d be knowingly signing up for a bad time.

    Reply
  16. Liz T

    Can I ask what the best things are about the job? I’ve been in a lot of interviews where they just want to tell me the things that might scare me away. I genuinely appreciate that honesty, but some balance would be good.

    Reply
      1. Liz T

        Thanks! It probably seems obvious, but some of these interviewers are so dour. I suspect their answer, at least internally, is “the money you dolt.”

        Reply
    1. hermit crab

      I get asked this all the time in interviews! And variations, like “What’s your favorite thing about working for this company?”

      I like it because it helps me, as the interviewer, sell the position to candidates (or give them useful information otherwise, like if they would actually hate the thing I said is my favorite).

      Reply
  17. Intrepid

    I am at that stage of my career where every job has some admin tasks, but not every job is all admin tasks– and some of them include the more research/strategy-based tasks in surprising ways. I always want to ask about what the admin: research ratio is, but I can never seem to phrase it in a way that doesn’t make my interviewers spook and think I’m unwilling to do any admin. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. Rincat

      I might ask something along the lines of, “Describe a typical day for this position,” or ask them to outline the duties and tasks, maybe rank them on priority. I think you can be general in the question without saying something like “just how much admin work will I have to do?”

      Reply
      1. Intrepid

        I’ve tried that before, and all I’ve gotten is the dreaded “There’s no typical day in this position!” They generally don’t follow up with “But in a typical month…” There’s just “no typical day!” and then radio silence.

        Reply
  18. emma2

    Earlier this week, I had an interview with a recruiter, and she kept voicing throughout the interview her concern about the fact that my previous jobs have been focused on a specific subject area, even though I kept explaining that I was open to expanding to other areas. I even addressed this issue in my cover letter and introduction before she brought it up first. She also got it in her head that, for some reason, I would only want to work with government clients and not private clients, even though my resume indicates clearly that my current position deals with private clients. I did hold a government internship while in grad school – but that was 2 years ago.

    Basically, my question is, is it normal for a recruiter to repeatedly voice a bunch of concerns/reasons about why you might not want the job and keep ignoring your answers? And what should one do in this situation?

    Reply
  19. LadyCop

    Well I’m glad these mostly weren’t the same ones you see rehashed in dozens of identical articles…when can I take a vacation, when can I get a raise, when can I get a promotion…ugh. I imagine some idiots out there ask these, but some of us want actually helpful advice.

    Reply
  20. AcademiaNut

    The oddest question I ever asked in a job interview basically came down to “What are the chances of being invaded by China?”.

    (It was a relevant question, and I did get the job).

    Reply
  21. Grrr... Argh!

    What if the only information you can find about a company is their address and phone number, and some meaningless nonsense about “providing solutions”? I had an interview with a company like that once. All I knew was that it was some kind of programming job, but nothing else.
    So I asked them “What do you actually do, because I’ve been unable to find any information about the company.” I still have no idea.

    Reply
  22. Student

    Great article, especially when in the middle of phone interviewing for jobs. The 8 worst questions, are very on point. I usually stick to one question that has really helped me in phone interviews and in-person interviews. That question is, “what are some of the best qualities of your best employees?” Therefore, it could help you in knowing what qualities they like in there top employees.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Please follow the site's commenting rules.
You can report an ad, tech, or typo issue here.

Subscribe to all comments on this post by RSS